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Distracted driving tops list of dangers on the road, survey says

Drivers talking or texting on cellphones pose a high risk to others on the road

More people reported they were talking or texting while driving pointing to new distracted driving concerns.

The proportion of drivers who report talking on a cell phone regularly or often when behind the wheel increased by 46 percent since 2013, according to the AAA foundation for traffic safety. Nearly half of drivers reported recently talking on a mobile phone while driving and nearly 35 percent reported having sent a text.

Washington state's distracted driving law went into effect on July 23, 2017. The law makes it illegal to use a handheld device while driving even while stopped at a traffic signal or stop sign. But users who have a holder for the device on their dash, can use the device minimally to start or stop an application such as GPS. The law also allows officers to pull people over for any other activity that might interfere with driving such as eating, putting on makeup, or having a pet on your lap.

The data is from a sample of 2,613 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who drove within the last 30 days as a part of AAA’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index.

Despite the seemingly common occurrence, nearly 58 percent of drivers in the survey said talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel is a threat to their safety and 78 percent said texting is a serious danger.

"There is a disconnect between what drivers do and what they believe,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “While most recognize the dangers created by taking your eyes off the road, they engage in distracting behaviors anyway- creating a 'do as I say, not as I do' culture on the roadway."

A recent study from the AAA foundation showed that drivers talking on their cellphones are up to four times as likely to be involved in an accident. Those who text while driving are up to eight times more likely.

"With more than 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2016, we need to continue finding ways to limit driving distractions and improve traffic safety," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Nearly half of the drivers surveyed reported regularly seeing drivers texting while driving and the majority believe the problem of distracted driving has increased over the past three years.

But federal estimates show the number of distracted driving crashes has actually dropped by two percent and is a factor in just 14 percent of all crashes.

This may be due to the difficulty in investigator’s ability to prove the crash was caused by a distraction. This difficulty makes distracted driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues.

However, the AAA Foundation’s past study on teen drivers with in-vehicle dash-cam videos found that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of crashes.

AAA gives a few tips for reducing driver distraction. They advise drivers put away devices that may become distractions on the road like phones or games and pre-program GPS systems, climate control, and sound before leaving. Those with pets or children should make sure they are secured and to avoid messy snacks.